A Legend Quizzed

Saturday 27th August 2005

Mike Rimmer threw a whole heap of questions at the founding father of Jesus rock music, LARRY NORMAN.

Continued from page 2

Why do you think the Nashville Christian scene has been so hard on you in recent years?

Oh well, the Nashville, you know, move to Nashville and the first thing you know you trade in your pair of faded Levis for pants with a pleat and some rhinestones! That's how it used to be, I don't know what the new style is now. You have expensive looking clothes, you have expensive guitars and people admire you and envy you for your wealth or your social position or your musical renown. That's what happens when you go there. I have had a lot of really good friends go there and be changed, and then most of them move back; couple of them got sucked in by the vortex and never got out and now it's like they are selling used cars when I see them in concert. Anyway I don't know; what happened to the kid that I knew, where did he go? I want him back. I think Nashville and me have a different point of view about everything. So if CCM magazine starts lobbying grenades into my guitar case well I expect it you know. The last major write up that I heard about, somebody emailed it to me, it said, "Larry Norman used to be a bright light, today he's a dark cloud. People who once knew him say he has turned away from his family, his friends and the Church. Some say he has lost his talent, others say he has lost his mind." I don't remember everything, it was a long article, that's just the opening salvo, that's the first paragraph. Anyway, you know it was a bit ridiculous cos I was - I hadn't turned away from my parents, I was living with my mom and dad; taking care of my dad because he had Alzheimer's. I didn't turn away from the church, I had brought them a PA system and curtains and was taking my parents there every week and I was teaching Sunday School sometimes and I was saying, you know, all CCM needed to do was pick up the 'phone. They had my 'phone number, they had my office number, they had my parents' number, they just needed to call and say "is it true?" I could have said, "No, call my mom, here's my church number, here's my pastor's." But no, I'm not surprised and whatever happens in the future I won't be surprised.

Newcastle, Nthn Ireland, 1973
Newcastle, Nthn Ireland, 1973

Looking back over your career it seems you hit your creative period in your 20s and then later slumps were punctuated by flashes of genius. In this respect you are similar to Dylan. Do you think you have a 'Love And Theft' or a 'Time Out Of Mind' still to come?

Well thanks man! I didn't know I had any flashes of genius - that's cool, I'll have to look for those and the stuff I did in my 20's. Most of the biographies I have studied of poets, most of them peaked at 24 and were dead before 30. Of course life expectancy was a lot less a few hundred years ago but many people do their best work in their 20s so I never expected to do anything worthwhile when I hit my 30s and plus I had some problems with my mind because of the airplane accident. When John Barr prayed for me and my brain damage got healed I immediately wrote an album called 'Stranded In Babylon' and recorded it with my brother in Norway. We released it in Europe and I was surprised it got called album of the year in almost every Christian music magazine. Then I came home to America and expected it to be accepted here too but it never got released here. And then I had a heart attack in February.

So that's what I've been doing the for the last 14 years of my life, it's been in and out of hospitals. But yeah, I do have an album that I'm working on, it's kind of complicated lyrically so I don't know if it will be popular but it will be good, and I'm very proud of it.

What's the current position with your health problems, the prognosis and future treatment?

Oh well, you know, I was misdiagnosed. I had some pain in my chest and went to the hospital and I was clutching my chest and screaming, I could not stop screaming I was in so much pain. My brother told them, "He has been like this, we have called his doctor, we have called him five times, he says there's nothing wrong. He didn't see him but over the telephone he diagnosed indigestion. My brother won't stop screaming, so that's why we're here. Can you look at him?" They put me in a room and never took care of me and they came into the room and said, "Will you please stop screaming, you're disturbing people!" They did that four or five times and then the next time they came in I was unconscious and I had lost half of my heart and so that's my diagnosis and then because of that I have had a lot of other failures. I have had congestive heart failure where I am kinda drowning slowly in my lungs and my body is swelling up with water. Finally they diagnosed that correctly, two years ago although I have had it for years. That's not as much of a problem at all as I am on a pacemaker now, which means I could not live without one. It's not on demand, it's total. It's required, it's not only when I need it, it is just all the time. I didn't know that when they did a recent operation that they burned something inside of me that made me totally dependent on the battery and my three year battery burnt out in one year because I was shocked so many times. But that's the good news. Every time I started to have a heart attack I got shocked. I guess that's the treatment, that I have got this equipment inside my body that zaps me. You could say the future is anyone's guess but I know that God knows so I'm not worrying about it.

Tell me about your day to day life. Are you still involved as leader in your local church or what else do you spend time doing?

I have to say every day's different. I don't know what I am going to face when I wake up. Like today, I feel real good because I overslept. I set the alarm and never heard it. It's right near my hand, I can reach over and turn it off and I overslept by over two hours and I woke up totally refreshed - I think I slept 11 hours. Well, I never do that, I always wake up. I am usually awake before the alarm goes off so today's a great day, I have a lot of energy. Most days are not as good as this one. Some days I wake up and I just feel horrible. I stay in bed, I take some medicine, I stay in bed some more, I get up, I eat something, I go back to bed. That's the worst kind of a day, or no, I guess the worst is when I call the ambulance and end up in hospital, so that's what my day to day is like. I don't have an active ministry at the local church, I don't even have an active life in my house. You know, my sister comes over and helps clean up cos I can't seem to keep up with the mail and the laundry and stuff, you know. So anyway; that's where that's at!

What about the future, you are obviously still writing songs? How hard is the recording process now with your ill health?

Oh well, you know, I am writing songs and I think they're interesting because they are nothing like I ever wrote before and that could be bad or that might be good, I don't know. Other people will have to be the judge of that! But recording, me and my brother did a brand new album. It's coming out this Christmas, officially in the stores. It's a Christmas album, it's called '"Christmas Album', no it's called "Christmastime" cos that's the title of the song I wrote. The sub title is The Day A Child Appeared', because that was the first Christmas song I wrote back in 1960s. Everything else on it is not stuff I wrote, everything else is traditional done in a very untraditional way and a lot of fun according to the people we pre-released it to. They said I am singing better than ever. Hey you know, I tried really hard and it's kind of funny being on vacation for three years, really has strengthened my voice. Right now it's kind of falling apart but when you do an album you don't do it all in one day so when my voice gets tired we just stop recording and wait till I stop sounding like Johnny Cash and then we do another good vocal. It's not that easy because at times there is so much stuff going on. I work solely, exclusively with my brother. He's the best producer I work with and the only one I want to work with and he's got his own career and so it's kind of difficult to find time sometimes but it's never difficult to do something we both think turned out pretty good.

If you could go back and change three things in your life, what would they be?

On Stage, 1989
On Stage, 1989

First of all I would change my skin colour cos when I was white I was getting beaten up all the time so - not really; actually I love the neighbourhood I grew up in and I love the music I was exposed to. I don't think I would be doing what I'm doing now if I hadn't been white growing up black listening to my grandpa's burlesque records you know, the vaudeville records, Burt Williams, black singer. Those were my idols. I guess when I use the word idols only black people sang very interesting songs. Then along came Elvis Presley and well I thought he was just ripping off the black gospel singers actually, but his music had power that "How Much Is That Doggy In The Window" didn't, so I would not change my early life.

I think my name is stupid, Larry Norman - that's like two front names. One time somebody said, "Hey is that your stage name"? and then I said, "Yeah! I picked out those names as I think they go really good together, yeah. It was way better than my real name." No! That's what my parents named me. They didn't even name me Lawrence because they didn't want anybody to shorten it but people occasionally call me "Lare" so I told my parents that that didn't work! So I don't really know, everything bad that happened to me was good. It turned out for good. It made me closer to Jesus and made me think a lot more. I would hate to be the stupid kid I think I probably was when I was growing up. I just really am appreciative of what I was able to start turning into and so I don't know, I don't know.

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Reader Comments

Posted by Will campbell in England @ 20:25 on Sep 2 2018

Does anyone know what number he lived at in park lane carshalton in england. I got an autographed when I lived in California I've never looked back

Posted by Ed Lutheran in Pittsburgh @ 18:42 on Nov 8 2016

Thank you for this interview. I find Larry and his music to be really encouraging in my walk with Jesus. I have a few questions for him that I won't get answered because he passed away. I can only say I miss his ministry and I love it when I read something new like this interview. Why does it seem like today a ministry like Larry's isn't welcome in the churches?

Posted by Peter McHugh in Belfast N.Ireland @ 00:26 on Jun 12 2010

Larry you have and will always be my inspiration. Heaven must be rocking with you and Johnny, Hendrix and Lynott.. Great interview, i've only just found it.. forever an idol.. Pete :)

Posted by robyn kelly in usk, washington-u.s. @ 01:17 on Nov 21 2009

thanks, Larry, for doing such a candid interview..I have been to 3 of your concerts in the early '70's..got to shake your hand, 'n my sis did converse w. you.your influence upon my life, & my husband's has been profound. He went to Ozark Bible College in Joplin too! :) God bless you. I thank God for the internet, as I'd not known what happened w. you. I will pray for your health issues..God bless you. Robyn Kelly

Posted by william in ft. worth @ 11:31 on Mar 4 2008

I found Stonehill's coments very insensitive. Cut the brother some slack .......are you reaching for chest "screaming" ...welll maybe thats why he's not responding right now? But either way when he died is not the time to bring all this stuff out.

Posted by Jeffrey Newman in GA USA @ 20:10 on Jun 9 2006

I think God used Larry Norman and Randy Stonehill and those who caught that wave, that, God accepts us for who we are and it's ok to be yourself. "I (God) Love You Just As You Are!" A message that "christians" often sing in their hymns but do not emulate in their behavior or attitude - especially when relation to the world.

Jeffrey Newman

Posted by Ellis in California, USA @ 00:19 on Oct 30 2005

I want to hear Larry Norman and Randy Stonehill on the radio TODAY. I want to see videos and concerts on TV with them. A revival of their music 2005-6

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